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Among catchers, newly-elected hall of famer Joe Mauer finds himself in rare air

In the history of the sport, more than 20,000 men have played Major League Baseball.

Just 60 of those players have been honored as first ballot hall of famers, a list that includes legends such as Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson. And of those 60, only three have been catchers.

That’s something that Joe Mauer, the third of those catchers, said hadn’t fully sunk in yet, hours after he learned on Tuesday that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame. Mauer, who received 76.1 percent of the vote from long-tenured members of Baseball Writers’ Association of America — 75 percent is required for entry — joins an exclusive club that includes only Johnny Bench and Iván Rodríguez.

He will be inducted on July 21 in Cooperstown, N.Y., alongside Adrián Beltré and Todd Helton, both of whom were elected on Tuesday night, as well as Jim Leyland, who was voted in by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee in December.

“There are so many great players, great catchers in the Hall of Fame. Just thinking of some off the top of my yead, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella — it’s not lost on me,” Mauer said. “Definitely thankful for joining that group. Those two guys, obviously, I played against Pudge (Rodríguez) quite a bit and could see firsthand why he’s there and rightfully so. I got to meet Johnny Bench over the years. It’s unbelievable. I’m still kind of pinching myself to receive that type of news.”

One of the best hitting catchers to play, Mauer became the first American League backstop to win a batting title. He remains the only catcher to win three of them, doing so in 2006, 2008 and 2009. He was heralded for his defensive skills behind the plate, as well, winning a trio of Gold Gloves.

“He’s the best catcher of his generation,” former teammate Justin Morneau said. “He did things that no one else did.”

Mauer finished with a 55.2 bWAR (Wins Above Replacement), ninth among catchers all time. When inducted, he will become the 20th catcher in the Hall of Fame.

While Mauer was primarily a catcher, his time behind the plate didn’t last as long as he would have liked it to. A concussion suffered in August 2013 both ended his season and forced a move to first base, taking him away from the position that he loved so much.

“I played quarterback in football, point guard and shooting guard in basketball — I loved having the ball in my hands or close by. That’s what I loved,” he said. “Obviously I would have loved to catch more years and extend my catching career. It just wasn’t in the cards.”

Mauer spent 10 years as a catcher and the remaining five at first base. While he said he missed catching and felt the team had the best chance to win when he was behind the plate, the move allowed him to extend his career — a career that would ultimately take him all the way to Cooperstown.

And while the latter third of his career wasn’t spent at his preferred position, Mauer walked off the field for the last time as a catcher. In an emotional final game, he strapped on the gear one last time, receiving one final pitch before walking off to an ovation from an appreciative Target Field crowd.

“I got to be a catcher, the starting catcher for 10 years. Enjoyed every minute. It goes by way too fast,” he said. “I’m proud I was able to play that position.”

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